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The Worst Heat Waves in History

Updated October 13, 2018 10.3k views11 items

As weather patterns fluctuate across the globe, humanity is at risk of prolonged heat waves and droughts. Temperatures are climbing, and the last few years have seen record breaking temperatures that are the highest in human history. However, historically, there have always been heat waves around the world that are marked by unseasonably high temperatures that have led to deaths and economic devastation. Here, you'll find a list of the deadliest heat waves on record. 

Heat waves aren't just uncomfortable. They can be extremely deadly given the right circumstances. People killed during heat waves often die of thirst via dehydration or succumb to heat-related disease like heat stroke. The elderly are usually at the highest risk of succumbing to brutal heat, but thousands of people from all walks of life have been killed as a result of high temperatures. As the risk of these disasters increases, it's important to look at the worst heat waves in history to learn how to protect yourself in the event of unusually high heat. More heat waves are coming, and they will affect places all over the world. 

  • 1980 United States Heat Wave

    Date: June - September, 1980
    Highest Temperature: 108 °F
    Deaths: At least, 1,700 but possibly up to 10,000 considering indirect deaths 

    Parts of the South and Midwest were hit with extremely high temperatures throughout the summer of 1980. This massive heat wave was one of the longest on record, and some estimates put the total death count as high as 10,000 people counting indirect deaths. In much of the country, temperatures did not dip below 90 degrees Fahrenheit for months on end. Roughly $20 billion in damages were recorded from agricultural sources affected by the ensuing drought, with livestock deaths also contributing to the financial burden. The heat wave came to an end with the arrival of Hurricane Allen

  • Photo: Ville Miettinen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    2015 Indian Heat Wave

    Date:  June 5, 2015
    Highest Temperature: 118 °F
    Deaths: 2,500

    Due to the late coming of India's monsoon season, the country was hit by a severe heatwave that left thousands dead. Temperatures got so high that streets in Dehli began to melt, morphing the asphalt and affecting transportation. Indian health authorities urged the population to take extreme precautions during the wave, telling citizens to stay hydrated, wear light clothes, and carry umbrellas to protect from sunburns. The heat wave finally came to an end with the arrival of the first monsoon of the season. 

  • 2015 Pakistan Heat Wave

    Date: June 18 - June 24, 2015
    Highest Temperature: 120 °F
    Deaths: 2,000

    A crippling heat wave smothered much of Pakistan during the height of Ramadan, an Islamic holy period where Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. The city of Karachi was particularly affected, with much of the death toll coming from there and the surrounding areas. The situation became so dangerous religious figures urged worshippers to break their fast if recommended by a doctor for their health. The massive death toll put a strain on the city's mortuaries, who were inundated with more corpses than they could process.

  • 1896 Eastern North America Heat Wave

    Date: August, 1896
    Highest Temperature: Unknown
    Deaths: 1,500

    The summer of 1896 was devastating for Americans living on the East Coast, especially those in New York City. During the middle of August, a devastating heatwave struck the city and persisted for 10 days. The heat wave caused thousands of deaths, many of them due to living in overcrowded, dirty tenements that worsened the effects of the high heat. Theodore Roosevelt was a police commissioner in the city at the time, and he wrote about the horrifying conditions he witnessed in the streets. Roosevelt helped provide aid during the disaster and ensured residents had access to commodities like ice.